Christian Worldview

Striking a Blow at Crime

What does it take to be tough on crime? We're just months away from the next election, and our presidential candidates are slugging it out, each trying to look tougher on crime than his opponent. President Clinton wants to put more cops on the beat to catch more criminals. Republican Bob Dole has his own bag of tricks to make crime disappear: He wants to build more prisons and charge minors as adults for major crimes. But these solutions assume that putting people behind bars is itself a tough anti-crime measure. A serious misconception. Putting people in prison does get them off the streets--but only temporarily. In a little while, offenders are back again, meaner than ever. Two-thirds of people released from prison are re-arrested within three years. No one can pretend any longer that our criminal justice system strikes a tough blow at crime. Given today's revolving-door prisons, it can actually be much tougher to impose alternative forms of punishment: house arrest, electronic surveillance, and community-based work programs. Rick Templeton of Justice Fellowship has had firsthand experience with both forms of punishment. After being convicted of a white-collar crime, Rick was first locked up in a maximum security state prison, where he spent his days watching television. Later he was transferred to a minimum-security prison where he was much less restricted and even went out to work during the day. Ask Rick which regimen was tougher, and he'll answer without a moment's hesitation: the work program. "Being required to get up every day, report in regularly, go to work, support my family--that was much more demanding than watching TV all day," Rick says. In states that offer convicted criminals a choice between prison and alternative programs, criminals overwhelmingly choose prison. They know which one is tougher. The biblical teaching on justice does not call for simply warehousing criminals. It calls for restoring the peace--the shalom--of the community. In ancient Israel, when someone committed aggravated assault, he didn't vegetate in a prison cell. Instead, he had to work to pay restitution to the victim--and repay the victim's lost wages. Work and community programs are socially redemptive, mending the tear in the social fabric caused by crime. Prison Fellowship operates programs that put prisoners to work rehabilitating inner-city homes and community centers. I've talked with countless participants who say they are grateful for the chance to pay society back--to make up for evil deeds with good deeds. So I say lock up dangerous criminals longer. But put to work the 50 percent who are non-violent. A good way to learn more about the biblical understanding of law and order is through Justice Fellowship, an arm of Prison Fellowship. Justice Fellowship works for biblically-based reforms in our criminal justice system. Why not share this booklet with your Bible study group. You'll learn to tell the difference between solutions that are tough on crime and those that merely sound tough. And you'll find out why alternative punishment is the real way to strike a blow at crime--because it requires criminals to change from the inside out.  


Chuck Colson


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